BENNINGTON - Crowds from near and as far away as New Mexico flocked to Camelot Village in Bennington Saturday and Sunday for the 18th annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival.
For the corm-loving demographic, the endless rows of vendors, over 180 to be exact, offered something for everyone, whether the infamous garlic ice cream was your fancy, a wood-fired pizza topped with garlic, or perhaps a refreshing black garlic lemonade.
"You really can't taste the garlic until after a few sips," said Hoosick, N.Y. native Rob F., a garlic lemonade virgin until Saturday. "It tastes way better than it sounds."
New to the festival's array of cuisine this year was garlic fudge made by Albany, N.Y. local Jackie Ravida.
Ravida sold two different varieties of the unusual treat during her Garlic Fest debut this year, including roasted garlic and bacon chocolate fudge and a more "traditional" maple garlic flower fudge.
To create her crowd-pleasing, simultaneously sweet and savory goodies, Ravida spends two weeks candying garlic in her kitchen with sugar and water.
Once the garlic turns into a rock candy-like form, she chops it into chunks and forms it into her bacon fudge (for the garlic and bacon recipe) or her maple fudge (for the maple garlic flower fudge), and finishes both off by sprinkling even more of the candied garlic on top.
"It's a long process but so worth it," Ravida said. "Everyone seems to love it because I'm selling out fast."
Williams College freshman and Garlic Fest first-timer Jessica Hurtault said she was not only impressed with the amount of vendors that participated in the festival and the unusual foods, but also with the friendly, low-key atmosphere, with no pressure to buy things.
"The farmers and artisans have so much pride in their products. That's really nice to see," she said. "You can tell that everything is fresh and made with love."
Catherine Tan, another Williams College freshman new to Garlic Fest was also impressed with the copious amounts of garlic-themed goodies, both savory and sweet.
"Some of the concepts are insane but the execution is perfect," she said. "You wouldn't ordinarily expect some of these combinations to work." Mark Kycia traveled all the way from New Mexico for the festival. He has been peddling his homegrown garlic cross country over the past year and couldn't help but attend this year's event as he found himself in Vermont on the cusp of Bennington's annual tradition.
"I'm really impressed with the crowds," he said. "I've never seen anything like this before, especially for something like garlic."
Among the mass of local farmers and garlic growers were friends and Garlic Fest veterans Ben Rickles and Mike Proin of Gadabout Farm in Starksboro.
Their booth was chock full of seven different varieties of garlic ranging from Cuban Purple to Creole Red and Hungarian Purple, their favorite.
"It's the spiciest," Rickles said. "We like them spicy."
The pair also sold specialty vinegar along with their baskets full of exotic garlic bulbs, which seemed to be popular among customers.
Garlic pesto proved to be one of the more "normal" goods for sale throughout the weekend.
Jeff Howard, the owner of Linabella's Gourmet Garlic Farm and All Natural Pesto in Oakham, Mass., handed out sample after sample of his pesto varities with help from his daughter Isabella, 10.
"I like coming to help my dad every year," she said.
According to Jeff Howard, Garlic Fest is always "a great time."
Throughout the two-day pallooza, Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington emceed with his brother Matt, spouting our garlic trivia and handing out garlic-themed goodies, including garlic healing salve, garlic powder, and garlic cream, to the most garlic-savvy participants.
Although his time at the festival was spent wearing "a different hat" than he normally does, Harrington did not fail to note the importance of the annual event as it related to the town's economic well-being.
"Garlic Fest is quickly becoming the go-to event for Bennington, bringing people in from all over the country," he said. "It's a great way to show off our community and of course boost our local economy."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.